The Writing Life: Interview with Anna Belfrage

Welcome to The Writing Life. Today I am thrilled to welcome the talented and lovely Anna Belfrage, author of the acclaimed The Graham Saga, a series of eight novels, many of which have received well-deserved awards from the Historical Novel Society, six BRAG Medallions, and a RONE Honorable Mention.

Anna-B-höguppl-300x206Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, chances are she’ll be visiting in the 17th century, more specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This series is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

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Welcome, Anna.

What is your book’s genre/category?

I’m fast approaching the publication of my tenth book, but the nine I have out there all have in common that they belong under the Historical fiction umbrella. I would add that there is a considerable amount of love – not so much “classic” romance, as my protagonists quickly conclude they’re meant for each other and therefore present a unified front to their future adventures.

Please describe what your books are about.

My first eight books are all part of The Graham Saga, which is the story of two people who should never have met, seeing as she was born three hundred years after him. A heady mixture of action, adventure, history, passion and time-slip, The Graham Saga is set in the 17th century, both in Scotland and the American Colonies.

Anna Belfrage book coverMy most recent release, In the Shadow of the Storm, is the first in a new four-book series and set in the 14th century. It tells the story of Adam de Guirande and his wife, Kit. She was coerced into marrying him, he has no idea she isn’t who he thought he was marrying, and things between them become a bit dicey. Until Adam’s lord, Roger Mortimer, rebels against the king, dragging Adam with him. Domestic quarrels become immaterial in the larger perspective…Adam is a man of honour and integrity, torn apart between his loyalties to his beloved lord, his king, and his wife.

How did you come up with the title?

For my latest book, I just had this image of a knight riding towards a brewing storm. In general, I spend a lot of time choosing my titles – also, when writing a series, the titles must sort of go together, and as I have most of the series written before I consider publication this gives me time to play around with titles.

It’s a great cover. What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve always been fascinated by the tumultuous end to Edward II’s reign – and the role his wife, Isabella, played in it, together with her lover, Roger Mortimer. The real-life story is an impressive mix of passion, intrigue and political maneouvering.

What is your favorite part of writing?

The first rewrite. I generally get a first draft down in a month or so, and then I start the truly fun part, which is adding flesh to the bones, if you will. Not that the first draft is all that bare to begin with – the first rewrite will generally slash like 30% of the words and add 15% – but it is during the rewrite that the story acquires colour and smells.

I’m still stuck on the one month for a first draft! That’s incredible. What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

The editing. I use professional editors for a final edit, but before I turn anything over to them, I have done numerous edits. I still find it very difficult to slash scenes I love just because they are “unnecessary”. Sometimes, I indulge myself and leave them in, but mostly out they go and I spend some time feeling a bit depressed.

I know what you mean; it’s tough to cut scenes. Who are some of your favorite authors?

Where do I start? I read a lot of historical fiction, and Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon K Penman are among my favorites. I enjoy Barbara Erskine and Diana Gabaldon, I’ve read a lot of Bernard Cornwell and am a big fan of Venezuelan hist fic writer Francisco Herrera Luque. I don’t think any of his books have been translated, which is unfortunate as not only is he meticulous in his research, but he also writes about larger-than-life people.

I don’t only read hist fict. I read a lot of romance (love Amanda Quick and Lucinda Brant) and quite some crime/thriller, where I have a tendency to while away hours in the company of Mr Reacher. Plus, I love fantasy – blame it on Tolkien, a very early love of mine.

Being an indie writer myself, a huge chunk of my reading is other indie authors. Not that I give them free passes: I have a restricted amount of time, and books that do not meet basic standard when it comes to editing and formatting are quickly discarded (whether indie or mainstream. Quite a few mainstream lack good editing…) and unless the story hooks me the first 50 pages, I set it aside. (Once again: happens just as much with mainstream as with indie). Great indie authors are Alison Morton, Helen Hollick, M J Logue, Derek Birks, Steve McKay and Matthew Harffy – all of whom have written series. I obviously like series…

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

When it comes to my writing, my mother is undoubtedly one of the main influencers – not because she writes, but because she instilled a love of the written word in me from the age of one or thereabouts. She always read to me, and once I could read, she welcomed me to read whatever I wanted to read in her extensive library. Her tastes are eclectic, and so I found both Emmanuelle and Sartre on the shelves, although there was an overrepresentation of English writers – and particularly English poets.

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Do you have a favorite place to write?

At my desk in our country house. I turn my head, and I see a sloping meadow, beyond it the expanse of the lake. Now and then, an osprey soars upwards, I see kites and buzzards, swallows and swifts, and, in summer, a sea of blue lupines. Not bad.

Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I know a lot about dogs – I think I recognize most breeds around, seeing as I’ve worked as ring secretary at various dog exhibitions.

What surprises or learning experiences did you have during the publishing process?

It’s much more work than I expected it to be. Okay, so I’m indie published, and I knew that would mean more work than going mainstream, but all the same, it takes a minor tribe to get a book out there – especially if you’re aiming for quality. The cover, the editing, the proof-reading, the type-setting – all of it a lot of work. And then, once it is out there, the true slog starts, namely PROMOTION. All authors have to do it, most authors find it difficult and resent it because it impinges on writing time. But it has to be done, and it requires a lot of creative effort.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

I wrote the story I wanted to tell. Sounds simple, but is fundamental. As a writer, you must burn with passion for your Work in Progress. If you don’t, no one else will.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

I’m biased here, seeing as I am a big advocate of doing things the indie way. But whether you opt for the traditional route or the indie route, there are no shortcuts: your book has to be edited and revised and edited and revised. And if you’re going indie, you need to invest in external services – editing and cover design must be done by professionals!

Website and blog?

My blog: https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com

My website: www.annabelfrage.com

Where can we find your books?

For my latest release: http://mybook.to/ISOTS

or, for The Graham Saga: http://myBook.to/TGS

What’s next for you?

More writing 🙂 Other than my present series, I am working on a ninth book in The Graham Saga, and then I have a trilogy more or less ready to go – this time contemporary with a paranormal touch.

Thank you for visiting The Writing Life, Anna! I enjoyed learning more about you and your wonderful books. I admit I’m trying to wrap my head around writing a draft of an historical novel in a month, so perhaps you’ll consider writing a blog post on your writing process? Whatever it is, it works like a charm! Thanks again and happy writing to you.

ellie

 

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani, and in the soon-to-be released anthology, Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society, edited by Allie Burke. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, Eleanor loves facilitating creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

Eleanor adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Inmaculada’.

http://www.amazon.com/Decent-Woman-Eleanor-Parker-Sapia-ebook/dp/B00TUP47W

 

 

 

 

 

Anna Reviews: A Decent Woman by Eleanor Parker Sapia

Reblogged from The Review http://thereview2014.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/anna-reviews-decent-woman-by-eleanor.html

My heartfelt thanks to Paula Loftig at The Review for this wonderful opportunity, and to Anna Belfrage for the gift of her time and this review, complete with period photographs.

In 1898, the former Spanish Colony of Puerto Rico became American, this as part of the treaty ending the Spanish American War. The population of Puerto Rico may have had their own concerns about this sudden transfer of their citizenship, but such concerns were swept away in 1899, when the little island suffered one of the worst hurricanes in history, leaving behind a traumatized population and an infrastructure in tatters.

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   None of the above really play a part in A Decent Woman – except as background. The recent hurricane is the reason why young Serafina is so terrified when yet another storm hits the island just as she’s giving birth. The new American regime, bringing with it modernities such as electricity and educated doctors, threatens the existence of Doña Ana, until recently a much respected midwife. And as Doña Ana has a tendency to hedge her bets by praying not only to the Virgin and the saints, but also to an assortment of African deities, she is also under close scrutiny by the Church. Not a good place to be in, putting it mildly.

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   I enjoy reading books set in unusual places. In this case, Ms Parker Sapia presents us with the humid, tropical setting of Playa de Ponce, a small town just on the outskirts of Ponce – and of Ponce itself, already sliding into genteel oblivion now that the Americans have made San Juan the capital. It rains, it is unbearably hot, it rains some more, storms pass by at regular intervals, causing flooding and damage to the sad collection of sheds that house most of Playa’s inhabitants. Puerto Rico at the time is also a pot-luck of beliefs. People may flock to church on Sunday, but only a fool would ignore those other gods, such as Oyé, Changú and Yemayá. Here and there, rags in various colours decorate the doors, a silent offering to whatever God the colour belongs to. In a world where man is so exposed to the elements, it makes sense to keep all potential deities happy – just in case. The Holy Virgin figures prominently – in a book dedicated to the world of women, it is apt that she does.

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   A Decent Woman is the story of Serafina and Ana – mostly of Ana – who meet when Ana delivers Serafina’s first child during a storm. Ana is old enough to be Serafina’s mother, Serafina has no mother, Ana has no daughter, and in each other they find something of what they’re lacking. Serafina is a Puertoriqueña but Ana is from Cuba, and her past casts long shadows. Ana was born a slave, lived her first few decades as a slave,  and was forced to flee Cuba head over heels. Why is not revealed – not initially – and as the story progresses Ana has other battles to fight, primarily that with an intolerant priest and a humiliated doctor.

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   Where Ana is wary of others and generally disillusioned with life – she has lost too many people to risk developing new relationships – Serafina is a child-woman of sixteen, several years younger than her husband. A whirlwind romance ended in marriage, and before she knew it, Serafina was pregnant – one of the good, decent women in this world, those that see their role as wife and mother. But it isn’t easy, coping with a new baby when you’re not much older than a child yourself, and Ana sees no option but to help. Opposites attracts, one could say, with Ana acting the mainstay to Serafina’s initially so exuberant and hopeful take on life.

   Spanning the first few decades of the 20th century, this is a story about women – from the pampered wives of high society to the syphilis-infected whores. In a time where women had no rights, a single woman was viewed with suspicion, the assumption being that the only way such a woman could survive was on her back. Doña Ana experiences first-hand just how vulnerable a single woman can be – even more so if she is black, lacks a formal education and can’t read. Although Serafina is a married woman, she is not much better off. A wife is at the mercy of her husband’s whims, whether they be to drink too much and abuse her, or keep a stable of mistresses on the side. Sometimes, however, the downtrodden fight back – sometimes, they have to, to survive. 

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   Life for Serafina and Ana takes a number of surprising turns. At times for the good, just as often for the bad, but neither Ana nor Serafina have the luxury to give up. They do, however, have each other, despite the differences in age and status. In a setting heaving with tropical heat, with hurricanes and earthquakes, with corrupt policemen and abusive pimps, unfortunate demise and premeditated murder, such a friendship can be the difference between life and death.

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   Ms Parker Sapia does a great job of depicting early 20th century Puerto Rico – all the way from the opulence of the mansions of the rich to the various natural catastrophes that regularly sweep across this little island. Both Ana and Serafina are well-developed characters, women it is easy to care for.

I do believe the novel would have benefited from a thorough edit – specifically as concerns the time line. There are various occasions when I am jolted out of the story by strange time leaps, such as where one chapter is dated 1915, the next 1917 – but it starts off the morning after the events in the preceding chapter. As a reader, I spend considerable time sorting out these timing issues… Likewise, in some cases the leaps are too long: one moment Serafina is living in marital bliss, the next chapter her husband has a mistress set up in a separate home, behavior which is difficult to reconcile with the amorous and tender husband of just some pages back.

   All in all, A Decent Woman offers interesting insight in the life and fate of women – not that long ago. I loved the setting, the various descriptions of customs and rites, and having been fortunate enough to experience first-hand the rich Latino culture of Hispanic America, I was delighted to find myself yet again submerged in festivities and traditions that still, to this day, contribute to the fabric of everyday life. 

About The Author

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Historical novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia was born in Puerto Rico and raised as an Army brat in the United States, Puerto Rico, and several European cities. As a child, she could be found drawing, writing short stories, and reading Nancy Drew books sitting on a tree branch. Eleanor’s life experiences as a painter, counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker, continue to inspire her writing. Eleanor loves introducing readers to strong, courageous Caribbean and Latin American women who lead humble yet extraordinary lives in extraordinary times. Her debut historical novel, A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, has garnered praise and international acclaim. She is a proud member of PEN America Center, Las Comadres Para Las Americas, and Historical Novel Society. A Decent Woman was chosen as July 2015 Book of the Month for Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club.


Eleanor is currently writing her second historical novel titled, The Island of Goats, set in Puerto Rico, Spain, and Southern France. When Eleanor is not writing, she loves facilitating creativity groups, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago a second time. Eleanor has two loving grown children, and currently lives in wild and wonderful West Virginia.

Find out more about Ms Parker Sapia on her Blog!

A Decent Woman is available on Amazon.uk
And Amazon.com

If you would like to win a copy of A Decent Woman then leave a comment here or on our Facebook page 

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Anna Belfrage is the author of eight published books, all part of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. The first book in her next series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, will be published on November 1, and is set in the England of the 1320s. Anna can be found on amazon, twitter, facebook and on her 

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Posted by Paula Lofting at Sunday, October 18, 2015 

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